On behalf of Greenpeace, PRIF's research department "International Relations" has examined German arms control policy over the last ten years. The study, which was published by ZEIT-Online on December 6, 2023, analyzes which key arms control policy initiatives were launched by Germany and what momentum they were able to develop. The spectrum of initiatives examined ranges from the nuclear weapons to biological and chemical weapons and new technologies. These are analyzed against the backdrop of global political crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. The PRIF researchers see Germany's continued commitment to arms control as an important contribution to strengthening a multilateral world order.
For their study, the PRIF researchers developed a typology that describes the commitment for or against arms control. On this basis, they identified clear support on the German side for the development, maintenance and sustainable implementation of arms control measures. They come to the conclusion that Germany very often takes on the role of supporter, often also acting as an initiator of arms control policy measures, but rarely takes on the role of hesitator or even blocker, as in the case of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
The PRIF researchers note the diverse approaches of German engagement, but also the varying intensity of efforts, which often go far beyond the respective agreement or political declaration of intent. Last but not least, they note ambivalences in German policy. These can be seen, for example, in nuclear arms control, where Germany is endeavoring to identify convergences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states with regard to gradual disarmament. On the other hand, Germany does not support more far-reaching approaches in the nuclear field. Such ambivalence can also be found in Germany's commitment to the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and its arms export policy.
Germany is also active in many areas of arms control when it comes to new technologies, particularly with regard to confidence-building measures in cyberspace or strengthening the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, Germany's commitment reaches its limits when its own national security and economic policy interests take precedence, as in the case of the regulation of armed drones, outer space or artificial intelligence.
In turn, Germany is a leader in financing conventional weapons destruction and clearance programs, such as anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Germany is one of the largest donor states in small arms and light weapons control and the handling of ammunition and launches important initiatives of its own for tailored regional arms control. German diplomats regularly chair or lead working groups, for example on ammunition control. In this way, arms control and disarmament can succeed in certain areas even in times of crisis. This also applies to chemical and bioweapons control: for example, Germany is intensively supporting the institutionalized approach to clarifying the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The implementation of the agreements always includes cooperation projects with partner countries, for example in the area of biosecurity programs.
The global crises of recent years are also reflected in Germany's commitment to arms control and disarmament. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought international politics to a standstill for some time, the deterioration of the international security architecture that has been observed in recent years directly affects arms control. Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine since 2022 have led to a deep crisis of confidence and brought conventional arms control in Europe to a complete standstill. This loss of trust between Russia and other, particularly Western, states is also reflected in other arms control regimes. Germany was able to do little to counter the termination of bilateral nuclear arms control treaties between the USA and Russia, as well as the OH Treaty by the USA under Trump.
The PRIF researchers name other parameters that determine Germany's commitment to arms control policy, such as NATO membership, intensive cooperation with France and other partners. Industry also influences Germany's commitment. Economic policy interests have repeatedly led to arms control policy initiatives remaining at the level of voluntary commitments. Cooperation with civil society actors also plays a major role in Germany's commitment to arms control policy. Germany ensures that non-governmental organizations have access to the central negotiating forums and makes use of the technical expertise of think tanks. Even though arms control and disarmament are in a deep crisis in many areas, Germany is routinely involved in the implementation of agreements or within the framework of organizations such as the OSCE. For example, the Structured Dialogue, one of the few intact dialog forums between the West and Russia, was able to take place between the OSCE partners until 2022.
In view of the current global political situation, the study concludes that Germany should use its arms policy initiatives as a means of building trust. Germany's role as a mediator provides a basis for renewing cooperative relations for a time after the end of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. According to the PRIF authors, flanking the current security and defense policy with arms control policy initiatives can provide impetus for the future reconstruction of cooperation and defense relations. Germany's continued involvement in arms control is therefore an important contribution to maintaining and strengthening the multilateral world order, even if this can only be advanced in small steps at first.
Find the study as a download in German here.
Further information and publications can be found on the Greenpeace website (in German).